DETROIT — The Bears' season met a sudden, stunning death when Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal sailed over the upright in the Vikings' victory over the Packers.
But really, the Bears' season had been dying one incompletion at a time.
One stuff at a time.
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One sack at a time.
One false start at a time.
In retrospect, it was a slow, grueling death, brought on by an offense that never could take a good breath.
It all became so clear early Sunday evening when the lights were dimmed at Ford Field and the only sounds were from the cleanup crews picking up empty beverage containers and rolling garbage cans through the concourses.
Even if the Bears had sneaked into the playoffs, where were they going?
Their kind of offense worked well enough against the Lions and Cardinals of the world. But if the Bears were going to move forward, the offense would have been charged with keeping pace with Colin Kaepernick. It could have been asked to outscore Aaron Rodgers, outduel Matt Ryan and outclass Peyton Manning.
And this offense didn't have an Adrian Peterson who could cover up all the flaws like a heavy-duty concealer.
In the opinion of Fox pregame studio host Terry Bradshaw, the Bears would have been the worst team in the playoffs. Why? "They're all about defense and have a quarterback in Jay Cutler who I don't think even likes himself," Bradshaw said Sunday.
Cutler wasn't the problem Sunday.
He avoided pressure pretty well and didn't throw any interceptions. He had an excellent 19-yard run for a first down on third-and-3 at a critical point in the fourth quarter. He had a few potential touchdown passes dropped.
That's a good day for a Bears quarterback.
But the 26 points the Bears scored were very deceiving and not indicative at all of what the 2012 Bears were offensively.
The Bears converted only 4 of 15 third-down opportunities Sunday. Over their last three games, they converted 19 percent of third downs. The league average going into Week 17 was 38 percent.
And even when they were in position to score touchdowns, they usually could not. They had the ball inside the Lions 25 seven times and scored only one touchdown on those drives.
Even the Bears' most valuable offensive player, Brandon Marshall, did a slow fade late in the year. Marshall's normally reliable hands weren't so sure Sunday.
He had only 42 receiving yards and failed to go over 70 in any of his last three games. "Brandon, he's a little banged up," Cutler said. "It's been a long season for him, lot of catches, lot of opportunities."
Speaking of opportunities, the Bears defense remained the ultimate provider until the bitter end.